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In the Company of Mary

Date:12/30/18

Series: Christmas

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Luke 2:41-51

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

Every year when it comes time to decorate the house for Christmas I start with the nativity scene my mother sent one year. It’s rather large and white and Lenox so I have to be extra careful. Nothing opens up my imagination to what that night must have been like better than unpacking and setting up those figures. It’s an immediate transport back to childhood, like playing with a doll house, and setting the figures just right, Mary and Joseph closest, the shepherdess next, the worse men furthest, and the animals by the tree…

And maybe because I was an actor, I always placed the figures so that they were cheating outward, that’s a stage term to cheat out, means to stand so that your audience can see more of you, and so that’s what I had always  done with Mary and Joseph, until this year, when it hit me that if I really wanted to get into the mindset of a child at Christmas, it would be better to place them more realistically, as though there was no audience, no one watching, and so I began with Mary, which was so obvious for me as a mother, she would be fully facing her newborn, eyes glued, watching his every breath, the way his chest would rise and fall, and she would keep her eyes on him, because that's what first time parents do…Its a pretty common story for first time parents to check in on the baby when there’s no noise, or to drive 15 miles an hour from the hospital to home… 

Once home, as a first time mother it took me two weeks before I was able to take him outside. This is the beauty of having more than one. I don’t even remember the ride home with Charlotte and I hear from parents who have four kids that the youngest pretty much raises themselves. 

SO there/s Mary in my creche, starring at her baby, eyes glued, he’s going nowhere.

It seems I’m not alone in my delight in nativity scenes…many people collect them. I have friends who have dozens of different kinds from all areas of the world…

And outside churches as well, people will come to stare at statues, and often kneel before them, genuflecting, and sometimes crying as they pray before the baby Jesus…. 

It turns out that Mary isn’t the only one who has her eyes on Jesus… 

It seems that the nativity scene theft is up in recent years. In fact, churches have taken to deadbolts and tethers and security cameras…

Away in a manger on Bethlehem’s public square, (in Bethelem PA) a woman approached a statue of the baby Jesus one dark, December night. Then she stole it. 

The theft, from a Nativity scene outside City Hall, raised alarm in this eastern Pennsylvania city that shares a name with the real Jesus Christ’s birthplace. 

When the missing baby Jesus was found, it had been damaged, and Bethlehem’s police chief had to glue its leg back on. Then the city took action, positioning a concealed security camera exclusively on baby Jesus and assigning police officers to monitor the footage. In the two years since, the statue has been left at peace, asleep on the hay as the camera, nicknamed the “Jesus cam” by some residents, rolls. 

This year, thieves have raided Nativity scenes in Tennessee, West Virginia, Minnesota and plenty of other places, and made off with Jesus figurines.

The episodes, which have rattled Christian communities, have become so common that the owners of holiday displays have bolstered security. On church lawns and in downtown parks, baby Jesus is back in his manger, but often with a security camera rolling and a tether securing him to the ground. Some places have gone so far as to equip figurines with GPS devices. 

In West Bend, Wis., a baby Jesus figurine was stolen twice last year. After the first theft, the statue’s torso was found nearby, but the rest of it was missing. The faithful were outraged, and someone donated a new Jesus doll for the Nativity set, which had been displayed around town for decades.

A few days later, early on Christmas Eve, an alert police officer saw a woman “cradling something” on West Bend’s Main Street. It was the replacement baby Jesus. “I yelled ‘Police, stop,’” the officer wrote in his official report of the incident. Once confronted, the woman dropped the figurine and took off running.

Many attribute the thefts as teenage pranks and an increasing dictate for the religious right.

Whatever the motive, stealing baby Jesus statues has joined a list of illicit holiday traditions, along with Christmas tree theft and porch pirating.

Most Pastors have the same reaction, better security, Plexico glass, pray for the state of the souls of the sinners who steal… 

But one pastor had a different reaction… 

Kurt Busiek, the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Parkersburg, W.Va., said he believes his security cameras probably caught the person who, on consecutive days, stole Jesus, a manger and a donkey from a grassy area outside his church. But he said he has not watched the footage or filed a police report.

In an age when church attendance is down nationally, Pastor Busiek said he has decided to embrace the situation. With help from his members, he restocked the Nativity scene with donated items.

“My thought is, ‘Hey, if they steal that one, we’ll keep putting it out,’” Pastor Busiek said in an interview. “I can’t think of a better way to get the message of Christmas out than for people to keep taking Jesus home.”[1] 

In our scripture, this morning, that’s all Mary and Joseph were trying to do, bring Jesus home, when they discover he’s not with them. They search for three days when they finally think to look in the temple

And when Mary asks how Jesus could have done this to them, worry them, cause them this great anxiety….This is a wonderful scripture for anyone who has ever taken care of children, whether your own or someone else's we all know the level of panic that arises when we can’t find them, for a minute, an hour let alone the three days Mary and Joseph searched. 

And that I believe is Luke’s point, Luke is a great storyteller, here’s a detail that will knock your socks off, three days of not knowing if your son is alive or dead and when you hold that up as a backdrop to Jesus response, 

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 

And then…this...Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand…but that Mary treasured all these things in her heart… 

How do you treasure in your heart the things you don’t understand? That’s precisely how I understand this scripture… 

Let me re-read this piece… 

He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. 

There’s a separation occurring here…between Jesus who is growing in wisdom, in divine and human favor…and parents who can’t possibly fully understand it, but a mother who continues to treasure in her heart what she can’t understand with her head…and this isn’t the only time… 

Mary is as human as we get and as trusting as we get in example, again and again, trusting from day one what God has entrusted to her care….despite what others around her will say, how she will be treated by old friends that will disbelieve and think the worst, despite her worst fears…Mary trusts and treasures all these things…instinctually…she has a baby now...it will need things...it will need her…and she doesn’t have the luxury of trying to figure it out up here..or understand it because babies don’t wait around for us to do that…he will need warm blankets and food and dry diapers and in today's scripture, he will need the kind of understanding that knows the only trust…trust that as he grows under her care, he has a much larger place in the world, one that moves beyond her care, and out of her home, into the world… 

I can’t think of a lovelier image for all of us this week, the week after Christmas, and this week before Epiphany as we continue into Christmas, than to take Jesus home with you…to care for him, to hold him here, to treasure all of him, to find him again here in the temple, to have your eyes on him like a young parent who doesn’t see a world looking in…but only sees him. Doesn’t see all the ways the world distorts him, using his name to harm others, but only sees the love he embodies whether as a statue or a man…He needs us to care for him long enough that can treasure him, and treasure him long enough that we can trust…again and again, trust in our lives in a world that needs us…to help in repairing what is broken….to treasure him long enough that we trust that what we do and how we treat others matters, to care for him long enough that we trust he is somehow working in ways that are beyond our understanding but within our reach, we become the hands and feet for a baby that needs our hands and feet to care for the basic needs of others.

As  Pastor Busiek said in that interview. “I can’t think of a better way to get the message of Christmas out than for people to keep taking Jesus home.” 

Let Christmas reign in your heart for just a few more days…sit in the company of Mary. Allow trust to grow from all the attention and care that a newborn requires. Allow trust to grow within the walls of your home because you’ve taken the time to allow it to grow within your heart by taking care, of Christmas which lasts long after the gifts have been opened. 

Take him home, trust in His wisdom which will grow our of your care for him now, this day and always.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/23/us/nativity-jesus-thefts-christmas.html